Harriet Tubman


Taylor Sanford, Writer

Harriet Tubman was a former slave who escaped slavery then became a leading abolitionist. She helped hundreds of slaves feel freedom, by taking them through the Underground Railroad, taking them into the northern area of the country, first Philadelphia, then Canada. There is so much more to her story, so much more history than we were taught. 


Harriet’s Childhood

In 1819 or 1820, Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross. She was the daughter of Harriet and Benjamin Ross. When Harriet was 11 she started calling herself Harriet after her mother. She was born into slavery in the state of Maryland. She was raised under harsh conditions: she would sleep next to a small fire to stay warm during cold nights and during the winter. Physical abuse was normal for Harriet and her family. The effects of physical violence inflicted on her when she was younger was permanent. When she became 12 she started to suffer from seizures, and narcolepsy from a two pound weight being thrown at her head because she refused to help tie up a man who tried to escape. After being hit in the head with the two pound weight, she experienced intense vivid dream states that she thought were premonitions from God. These dreams and seizures led her to become devoutly religious.


Her First Marriage and Escape

In 1844, when she was 25, she married a man named John Tubman. There is not much known about John Tubman, other than he was free. Her husband prevented her from escaping; he even threatened to sell her further south if she attempted to escape. 

In 1849 – 1850, Harriet left her husband and had escaped slavery. She went to two safehouses for refuge. She traveled about 90 miles north to Philadelphia, where she got a job, so she could save up her pay to help free other slaves. Harriet wasn’t completely satisfied with her freedom; she wanted her friends and loved ones to be free with her. She made 19 trips from the south to the north using the route she was given from the Underground Railroad. 

Harriet’s Beginning: The Underground Railroad

In 1850. The Fugitive Slave Act made Harriet’s job as a Railroad conductor harder because it allowed any free or enslaved people to be captured and sold in the South. This act forced Harriet Tubman to lead slaves further north into Canada, usually in the spring or fall when the nights were shorter. She would carry a gun for her own protection, but also to “convince” the slaves who were having second thoughts about running away. She often had to drug babies and young children, so slave catchers couldn’t hear them cry. Over a number of years, Harriet had gained friendships with other abolitionists like Frederick Douglas, Thomas Garrett, and Martha Coffin Wright. Harriet later established her own Underground Railroad network and personally lead over 70 slaves to the North, including her elderly parents and dozens of others. She never used a different route.


Experience in the Civil War: “Moses”

When war broke loose in 1861, she found other ways to fight slavery. She was recruited to assist fugitive slaves at Fort Monroe: most of them were usually half-starved or sick from exposure. She nursed the sick and the wounded back to health, and found them work. She later went to work at a hospital where soldiers and sick slaves were dying like flies. She usually made medicine out of roots and never caught the diseases the soldiers had. 

The Summer of 1863: The Combahee Ferry Raid

Tubman worked with Colonel James Montgomery as a scout where she would put together a group of spies to keep Montgomery informed about slaves. After leading several enslaved people from the South to the North she got the name “Moses” because she lead enslaved people to freedom to the north like Moses did with the enslaved Hebrews, and lead them out of Egypt. She fought against slavery both as a soldier and a spy for the Union Army.

Harriet Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed military operation in the United States, known as The Combahee Ferry Raid. In January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect, she was in South Carolina as a Union Army volunteer, her family being in Auburn, New York. Tubman went to Hilton Head, South Carolina which had fallen to the Union early on into the war. She went there to make a request from the Massachusetts governor. John Andrew. In this raid, her top priority was to free the slaves and hurt the Confederacy. This is where she partnered up with Montgomery. Montgomery had around 300 men including 50 from Rhode Island’s Regiment, while Tubman got eight scouts who mapped the area and warned the slaves there when the raid was going to take place. On June 1, 1863, Montgomery was on a federal ship, the John Adams, which was leading two other gunboats the Sentinel and Harriet A. Weed out of the St. Helena Sounds and to the Combahee River. Harriet couldn’t read and write, so she committed everything from the plan to memory: she guided the ships to strategic points near the shoreline where fleeing slaves were waiting. On June 2, 1863, they destroyed Confederate property, and lead steamers away from known torpedoes. 

Harriet lead 150 men on the John Adams, had split away from Harriet A. Weed to conduct different raids. The John Adams was heading towards the fugitive slaves to rescue them. Once the signal was given, fleeing slaves were running everywhere with rebels shooting behind them. When escapees got to the shore Union troops took the slaves into rowboats and transported them to the ships. Troops also went to Field’s Point and set fire to plantations, fields, mills, warehouses, and mansions. This raid humiliated and badly hurt the Confederacy. More than 700 slaves were saved that day.


Her Second Marriage: 1869

When Harriet Tubman returned home, she married a second time, to a man who was a former slave and who was a Civil War veteran, named Nelson Davis. Her first husband, John Tubman, was murdered in 1867. Harriet and Nelson adopted a girl named Gertie a few years later. The both of them spent 19 long peaceful years together until Nelson passed away.


Later Life

Later in Harriet’s life she spent the rest of her days in Auburn, New York with her family and friends, on land she owned. She was still practicing her philanthropy, where her door was always open for anyone in need. She sold her home-grown produce, raising livestock, and accepting donations and loans from friends. She still couldn’t read or write, but she toured parts of the northeast speaking on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage movement alongside Susan B. Anthony. In 1896, she purchased and opened, “The Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People. Her brain injury caused her health to deteriorate throughout her life, and she had to endure brain surgery to relieve her symptoms. Her health continued to deteriorate, and she was forced to move into her namesake rest home in 1911.  

Her Death

On March 10, 1913, Harriet Tubman passed away from pneumonia. She was surrounded by family and friends at around the ages of 90 – 93. Her head injury from her childhood was causing pain and a “buzzing” that gradually got worse when she was getting older. She was admitted into the rest home in her honor. She was buried with military honors in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.


“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman


Here are the links I used to help me write and learn more about Harriet Tubman.